“88 and 2 (really 1) in ENDORSEMENTS this election cycle, and @FoxNews was critical,” he tweeted in June 2020. “Has anyone ever done so well? I doubt it!”
But as is so often true with Trump, the reality comes up well short of his boasts. While this isn’t exactly an emperor-has-no-clothes situation, it’s quite clear from a look at the numbers that the former president’s endorsement record is far more spotty than he would like his party to believe.
Tuesday night’s special election in Texas’ 6th district
provides simply the latest example of the overblown influence of a Trump endorsement. The billionaire businessman had endorsed Susan Wright, the wife of the late congressman. (Ron Wright died of Covid-19
“Susan has my Complete and Total Endorsement,” Trump said in a statement on July 21. “She will make our Country proud. Vote on Tuesday!”
And on Monday, Trump doubled down:
“Big election tomorrow in the Great State of Texas! Susan Wright supports America First policies, our Military and our Veterans, is strong on Borders, tough on Crime, Pro-Life, and will always protect our Second Amendment. She will serve the people in the 6th Congressional District of Texas, and our Country, very well. Susan has my Complete and Total Endorsement. “
Trump’s Save America PAC put money behind those words, spending $ 100,000 on
last-minute ads for her — and recording a robocall to help drive turnout for her.
But Susan Wright lost
to state Rep. Jake Ellzey. And it wasn’t all that close — 53% to 47%
That means that Trump’s record in special elections so far in 2021 is 1-1. (He had previously endorsed Rep. Julia Letlow,
who ran and won to replace her late husband who also died of Covid-19.)
Which, admittedly, is a pretty small sample size. But Ballotpedia has been keeping a running count of Trump endorsees
— and their fates — which gives us a broader and better look at the former president’s actual record.
Ballotpedia breaks Trump endorsements into three categories: 1) General elections 2) Special elections 3) Battleground primaries (i.e., primaries that are competitive). Here’s his record in each of those during the 2020 campaign:
* General elections: 141-42 (77%)
* Special elections: 3-2 (60%)
* Battleground primaries: 21-2 (91%)
Let’s go through each of those categories.
In general elections, Trump has always padded his stats by endorsing lots and lots of incumbents who face almost zero chance of losing. Trump did a LOT of this in the 2020 cycle. For example, he endorsed Rep. James Comer in Kentucky’s 1st district; Comer won with 75%
in a seat that Trump won by almost 50 points
. No one thought Comer was losing. Trump’s endorsement had nothing to do with that fact.
Special elections are unique even within the world of campaign politics. They are often scheduled at odd times — late July in an off-year is not a traditional voting time in Texas, for example — and that produces low and odd turnouts. Any endorser, therefore, is going to struggle to make the right pick in special elections. They tend to be the gambling equivalent of a “pick ’em” — meaning no one really knows what’s going to happen.
The one place where it’s clear that Trump’s endorsement does matter is in contested Republican primaries. A 21-2 record is very, very good — and suggests that if Trump endorses you in a normally scheduled primary, you are very likely to win.
Taken together, the numbers suggest that a Republican candidate — whether incumbent or challenger — still very much wants to have Trump’s endorsement.
But that endorsement isn’t a guarantor of victory — no matter what Trump says.